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ON THE REQUIREMENTS FOR EFFECTIVE WHOLE
LIFE COSTING IN AN INTEGRATED ENVIRONMENT

A. Al-Hajj1, R. Pollock1, M. Kishk1, G. Aouad2, M. Sun2 and N. Bakis2


1
School of Construction, Property and Surveying, the Robert Gordon University, UK.
2
School of Construction and Property Management, University of Salford, UK.

ABSTRACT
This paper is the first in a series reporting on-going research within an EPSRC-funded
research project undertaken by a joint collaboration between the Robert Gordon
University and the University of Salford. This project aims to develop IT applications of
whole life costing (WLC) to support life-cycle decision-making in the design and
management of construction assets. The research that underpins this paper aims to design
a framework for implementing WLC into the design phase using an integrated
environment. The main features and requirements of this framework were outlined from
an in-depth analysis of data-related difficulties in WLC modelling and the results of a
critical review of previous efforts to utilise databases in the implementation of WLC. The
proposed framework is the starting point in the design of the new enhanced system.
Future research work within the project includes the design of the cost breakdown
structure and the detailed design of the database structure and suitable reporting and
feedback mechanisms.

Keywords: Integrated databases, Life cycle cost(ing), Whole life cost(ing).

INTRODUCTION
Although most principles of whole life costing (WLC) are well developed in theory, it has
not received a wide practical application yet. A recent survey undertaken by BRE (Clift
and Bourke, 1999) indicates that WLC is currently used extensively only in PFI and
public procurement projects and is most frequently undertaken at the early stages of
procurement. Other surveys (Wilkinson, 1996; Sterner, 2000) indicate also that building
sectors in other countries has not fully adopted the WLC methodology. Several
researchers (e.g. Brandon, 1987; Ashworth, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1996a, 1996b; Flanagan et
al., 1989; Ferry and Flanagan, 1991; Bull, 1993; Wilkinson, 1996, Sterner, 2000) have
tried to identify the causes for the apparent failure to implement WLC in practice. Many
reasons have been put forward including difficulties relating to data and information
management, limitations of current analysis tools, fragmented nature of the industry, and
the lack of understanding and motivation on the part of clients and professionals, among
others.

The absence of sufficient and appropriate data was, and still is, a major barrier to the
application of WLC in the industry. Another data-related difficulty is the need to be able
to forecast a long way ahead in time many factors such as life cycles, future operating and
maintenance costs, and discount and inflation rates. Because WLC deals with the future
and the future is unknown, the treatment of uncertainty in information and data is crucial

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to risk assess the results of any WLC exercise. According to Al-Hajj (1991) and Al-Hajj

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and Aouad (1999), WLC application, in a way, is still trapped in a vicious circle

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containing a series of causes and consequences (Fig. 1). Obviously, this viscous circle has

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to be broken somewhere in order to move forward in the application of WLC.

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Figure (1): The viscous circle of WLC implementation (Al-Hajj, 1991).

This paper is the first in a series reporting on-going research within an EPSRC-funded
research project undertaken by a joint collaboration between the Robert Gordon
University and the University of Salford. This project aims to provide the means to break
this viscous circle. This will be achieved by developing IT applications of whole life
costing to support the decision-making process in the design and management of
construction assets. The applications will be used to add a fourth dimension (time) to the
OSCON integrated database (Aouad et al., 1998). This will allow the user of the system
to implement WLC during the design stage where the application of the technique is most
advantageous. Because the lack of a system of incorporating WLC into the design process
has been considered as a barrier to using the technique (Wilkinson, 1996), it is anticipated
that the enhanced system will give a boost to the implementation of WLC in the industry.

The integrated database within OSCON supports the functions of design, estimating and
planning by allowing them to effectively share information dynamically and intelligently
(Fig. 2). The system revolves around a central object-oriented information model that
consists of domain models. All the models in the system are independent of specific
applications, and each domain model provides support for general classes of a given
application. The CAD application allows a user to create and manipulate architectural
components of a building which are then stored as instances of classes in the object-
oriented database. These instances are read by a virtual reality (VR) interface to create a
3D view of the building giving the user a better environment for navigation and
walkthrough. Because of these unique capabilities, the enhanced system will also be an
invaluable management tool during latter stages of a project life cycle as the user can
easily inspect the building and retrieve information about maintenance programmes,
running costs and cash flows.

The first step in the design of this system was to outline a conceptual framework for
implementing whole life costing in the design process within an integrated environment.
The main features and requirements of this framework were outlined from an in-depth
analysis of data-related difficulties in WLC modelling, the results of a critical review of
previous efforts to utilise databases in WLC, and implications of working in an integrated

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environment. Some of these issues are reported in the following sections. Then, the

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framework is presented and directions for further research are introduced.

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Figure (2): Architecture of OSCON (Aouad et al., 1998).

DATA REQUIREMENTS FOR WLC


Data requirements may be broadly grouped into four categories. The first category
includes economic data regarding the discount and inflation rates and the analysis period.
Both the private and the public sectors utilise a variety of discount rates for different
reasons. On the other hand, there are many factors that should be considered in selecting
the analysis period and a good discussion is given in Ashworth (1996a, 1996b). The
selection of appropriate discount rate and analysis period can have a significant influence
on the outcome of the analysis. Guidelines for selecting appropriate economic data are
given in Flanagan et al. (1989) and Kirk and Dell’Isola (1995) and because this category
is project-specific, it will not be discussed anymore in this paper.

The second category required includes cost data. Cost data required in a typical WLC
study of a building usually include initial costs, maintenance and repair costs, alteration
and replacement costs, demolition costs, and other costs. The third category includes the
times in the life cycle of the project when cost-associated activities are to be carried out
(i.e. time horizons). Cost and time data are essential for WLC analyses. However, without
being supplemented by other types of data such as quality, occupancy and performance
data, they are of uncertain value. This is mainly because buildings are different from other
products, e.g. cars, in that buildings tend to be ‘one-off’ products (Flanagan et al., 1989).
In addition, time horizons are often determined by the owner maintenance policy. For
example, one owner may be maintaining a facility in mint condition while another may
permit considerable deterioration.
SOURCES OF WLC DATA
Three main sources of WLC data may be identified (Flanagan et al., 1989; Al-Hajj, 1991;
Kirk and Dell’Isola, 1995): historical data, manufacturers’ and suppliers’ data, and
predictive models.

Historical Data
Historical data is data from existing buildings currently in use. Some of these data may be
obtained from clients and/or surveyors’ records. However, this data is mostly combined
for accounting purposes and is difficult to obtain in its component parts (Kelly and Male,
1993). In addition, much of these data may not be usable because of the lack of the
context information of data, e.g. the maintenance policy followed as discussed in the
previous section.

Specialist Manufactures and Suppliers


According Flanagan et al. (1989), manufacturer and/or suppliers of certain materials or
components are expected to know the price of their materials, and their lifespan,
maintenance and cleaning requirements. One difficulty of this sort of information is that it
might be of commercial nature, i.e. suppliers might tend to favour their products. Kelly
and Male (1993) pointed out another difficulty as this information can usually be obtained
in terms of ranges of life. They gave the following example of this sort of information
‘... these fans work for two years, they come with a two year guarantee but
providing they are well maintained will run for 8-12 years no bother. We’ve
some which are still going after 16 years’

Kelly and Male identified also trade magazines as source that gives a similar sort of data.

Predictive Calculations
Predictive models can be used to reflect the likely level of some running costs. Predictive
models used in the industry can be broadly classified as detailed models, parametric
models and estimating by analogy. In the detailed approach to cost estimating, costs are
assigned to each element at the lowest level of detail. These are then combined into a total
cost estimate. For example, annual cleaning costs could be predicted by identifying the
areas of all the surfaces to be cleaned. Then, methods, cycles and rates of cleaning are
established. However, this approach has three limitations. First, it is the most time
consuming and costly approach. Secondly, it requires a very detailed knowledge of all
components and processes. Thirdly and more importantly, combining thousands of
detailed estimates into an overall estimate can lead to an erroneous result (Fabrycky and
Blanchard, 1991; Asiedu and Gu, 1998).

In the parametric method to cost estimating, the cost drivers are related to cost by the so-
called cost estimating relationships (CERs). Usually, CERs are derived from historical or
empirical data. However, the wide variations in age, type of construction and location of
buildings from which historical data are generated compound the problem of relying on
historical data. Another major difficulty in using the parametric approach is that
estimating the parameters may be difficult at early stages of the design due to lack of
reliable data or insight (Mason and Kahn, 1997). Thus, the final result from the cost
estimating relationships must be treated very carefully because incorrect relationships can
leads to large WLC errors. Examples in the framework of the construction industry
include the simple models developed by Al-Hajj (1991) and Al-Hajj and Horner (1998) to
predict the running costs in buildings.

Where there is no similar project history, judgement often will be relied upon to
formulate the project estimate (Dysert, 1997). According to Ashworth (1996b), historic
data will never provide precise solutions and judgement will always be required.

DATA COMPILATION
Dysert (1997) suggested that any cost estimate might involve any combination of
estimating techniques or methods. The choice of a certain method depends on the sort and
extent of data at hand and the level and time of implementation (Fabrycky and Blanchard,
1991). As shown in Fig. (3), during the early planning and conceptual design stages of a
project, the cost analyst depends primarily on the use of parametric cost estimating
techniques in the development of cost data. On the other hand, the role of detailed
estimates increases as the project design progresses. The figure also highlights the role of
judgement in almost all project stages in formulating estimates.

Therefore, no single source would provide the data necessary for a typical WLC
excercise. Rather, this data is expected to be from different sources. Another justification
of this statement can be seen in the data published in various price books and reports by
the Building Maintenance Information service (BMI) and the Building Cost Information
Service (BCIS). For example, the contents in the BMI building maintenance price book
(BMI, 2001) are based on the experience of the compilers and estimators specialising in
the maintenance field and on the results of maintenance studies.

DATABASES AND WHOLE LIFE COSTING


Kelly (1990) argues that WLC can not be used until a limited number of alternative
schemes have been substantially developed. The number of alternatives is effectively
limited only by the creative ability of the designer and the time and resources available to
explore the alternatives. Obviously, the creation of a cost database may reduce the cost
and time of undertaking a WLC exercise during the design stage. A number of attempts to
utilise databases for WLC have been cited in the literature. Neely and Neathammaer
(1991) developed four databases at the US Army Construction Engineering Research
Laboratory. The simplest database contains average annual maintenance per square foot
by building use. The most detailed database contains labour hours per square foot,
equipment hours per square foot, and material costs per square foot.

Kirk and Dell’Isola (1995) referred to a similar computer program called ‘Building
Maintenance, Repair and Replacement Database (BMDB) for Life Cycle Cost analysis’
available through the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Data are
presented in several levels of aggregation corresponding to the previous four databases.
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Figure (3): Cost estimating methods (Fabrycky and Blanchard, 1991).

These databases are ‘constructed’ rather than ‘historical-based’ in that they are mostly
based on ‘expert opinion’, trade publication data, and data in manufacturers’ literature.
Maintenance frequencies are the most subjective portion of the database and are mostly
determined by applying professional experience (Kirk and Dell’Isola, 1995).

However, the validity of existing cost databases is questionable. For example, Smith
(1999) reported that there is a 38% difference between two commercially available cost
databases when estimating the cost for new facilities for an American federal agency.
This bad performance may be attributed to some limitations of existing databases. One
major limitation is that these databases use the simple data normalisation procedure of
cost per unit area of the building. Flanagan et al. (1989) stressed the importance of the
hours of use and occupancy profile as other key factors. In houses, where the usage is the
same from one to another this could be a valid measure as Hobbs (1977) pointed out.
However, as for public buildings, such as factories, hospitals and schools, Hobbs prefers
to measure maintenance costs relative to the output or usage of the building rather than its
size. A BMI study (Martin, 1992) supported this view as it was found that users and not
floor-area had the greatest correlation with cost-in-use expenditure of hospitals. Al-Hajj
(1991) has shown that building-size and number-of-storeys as well as design-purpose,
influence the running costs of buildings. Whyte et al. (1999) pointed out that fundamental
design considerations, specification also affects database effectiveness as well.

A second limitation is that the background of data is often lost when put into databases. It
seems that most of these databases do not record all the necessary context information of
the collected data as discussed in the previous section. Bordass (2000) discussed in some
detail the danger of making comparisons of running costs without having good reference
information. He illustrated his arguments in the context of comparing energy
consumption of some offices in the UK with comparable Swedish data.

The nature of some WLC data, e.g. as reflected in the above citation from Kelly and Male
(1993), reveals another limitation of existing databases because they do not record all the
statistics and other measures indicating the type and levels of uncertainty of various data
elements. However, this information is necessary in handling uncertainties in these
parameters during WLC calculations and should be taken into consideration in the design
of the structure of databases housing WLC data.

OTHER REQUIREMENTS
Within this project, the implementation medium will be an integrated environment with a
CAD application (AutoCad) to allow the user to create, manage and manipulate various
components of the facility under consideration. Some of the additional implications of
utilising an integrated environment and a CAD application are discussed in some detail in
the following two subsections.

The Analysis of Uncertainty


As previously mentioned, the analysis of uncertainty is crucial in WLC exercises
especially when it is being used as a decision making tool at the design stage. Many
researchers (e.g. Flanagan et al., 1989, Kirk and Dell’Isola, 1995) recommended to utilise
either the sensitivity analysis (SA) or a probabilistic risk assessment technique, usually
the Monte Carlo simulation (MCS). However, the SA is only effective when the
uncertainty in one state variable is predominant and gives no definitive decision
otherwise. On the other hand, it is required to assign probability distribution functions
(PDFs) for uncertain variables in an MCS. Such functions are best derived from statistical
analysis of significant historical data. But, as mentioned previously, historic data for
WLC are sparse. Besides, simulation techniques have been criticised for their complexity
and expense in terms of the time and expertise required to extract the knowledge (Byrne,
1997; Edwards and Bowen, 1998). These difficulties become even clearer when it is
required to undertake a WLC exercise within an integrated real-time environment at the
design stage of projects.

Recently, a number of algorithms (Kishk and Al-Hajj, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001a,
2001b) have been developed at the Robert Gordon University that effectively overcome
most of the above difficulties. Besides, these algorithms allow describing parameter
uncertainty in a manner consistent with the nature of the information at hand.
Furthermore, competing alternatives are automatically ranked and confidence measures in
this ranking are given. Because of these unique features, these algorithms will be
employed in the proposed system.

The Cost Breakdown Structure


In a typical CAD application, a facility is defined as a collection of objects. These objects
are usually the components, elements, systems or subsystems of the facility. In other
words, these objects represent a work breakdown structure (WBS) of the facility. This
suggests that an elemental format is crucial for the implementation in the integrated
environment. Furthermore, an elemental format relate well with the kind of decisions that
are made at various design stages as noted by Kirk and Dell’Isola (1995). They described
how in the USA, an elemental format called UNIFORMAT continues to gain popularity
instead of a 16-division format which was heavily product and materials based.

Another implication of CAD and integrated environments is to standardise the WBS.


This seems inevitable because a standard WBS would allow whole life costing of specific
areas of interest and facilitate the flow of information around various life cycle phases.
Although a standard format for the WBS is important, it is not enough. The interaction
between various elements in this standard breakdown structure should be reflected as
well. For example, whole life costing of windows necessitates an analysis of the
efficiency of these windows regarding energy costs of the building under consideration.

AN IMPLEMENTATION FRAMEWORK
Based on these findings and noting that the design model within OSCON seeks to
describe information about the design stage to be shared with other models such as cost
and time-planning (Aouad et al., 1998), a framework for implementing WLC in the
design stage may be proposed (Fig. 4). The implementation takes place in five steps, as
follows.
Step 1: this step is crucial in WLC as it determines and defines the areas, elements and
components that will be whole-life-costed, i.e. the WBS. This will also make the
basis for data collection, analysis and feedback.
Step 2: this step includes identifying all information related to standards and criteria of
various elements, i.e. to quality and performance criteria of these elements. As
seen, these should reflect the main issues of servicing an element, e.g. frequency
of cleaning and life (replacement time), etc.
Step 3: in this step, design alternatives that may satisfy the requirements in step 2 and are
available in the resource database are generated. Part of this step will require the
retrieval of some specific project information like economics and physical data
from the project integrated database. These design alternatives will be generated
following a standard cost break down structure (CBS).
Step 4: in this step, all cost elements of the CBS are discounted and the whole life costs
for various alternatives are calculated.
Step 5: is this step, the best option is selected and various results from this exercise are
saved. Some of these results will be reported as useful output to the user and other
results will be used in the feedback process for future use.

The main feature of this framework is that it employs two databases: a resource database
and a project database. The purpose of the first one is to accommodate all the necessary
information about various options for every element in the work break down structure.
This will be constructed from the various sources outlined above. This database will be
mainly used during the design stage of the project. The second database is ‘the project
database’ and is obviously the ‘integrated database’ within OSCON which is to be
extended to house other data items necessary for whole life costing.
Resource Database

1. WBS 2. Element Standrads & Criteria 3.Generation of 4. WLC Predictions 5. Choice of the
Alternatives best option
element 1 Spec. (low, medium, high)
Alternative 1 Initial
element 2 Energy consumption

element 3 Frequency of cleaning Operating (energy) WLC profiles


Alternative ...
Frequency of Maintenance Operating (Other) Operating profile
element 4

element 5 Frequency of repair Maintainence Maintenance profile


Economics
Frequency of alterations Discount rate Repair Repair profile
element 6
Inflation rates
Study period Alteration Alteration profile

element ... Life Physical data Replacement Replacement profile

Project Database

Figure (4): WLC Implementation within an integrated environment


The employment of two databases has two advantages. First, this ensures that the new
system will not be restricted to a certain category of buildings. Secondly, and more
importantly, this gives the required flexibility in designing the structure of the resource
database to house multiple data sets necessary for generating alternative options. On the
other hand, the project database will house only the one data set representing the
optimised chosen set of elements. In this way, the asset can be managed during the
occupancy stage independently from the resource database. This will allow the database
to be used as an asset register, by recording the actual expenditure, performance and other
decisions taken during the life cycle of the facility.

CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH


Data requirements for whole life costing including economics, cost, time, performance,
quality and physical data were discussed in some detail. These data are often constructed
based on information from various sources including historical records, published price
books and trade magazines, predictive models, and expert opinion. Of all data categories,
maintenance frequencies are the most subjective category.

The utilisation of databases for WLC has an obvious advantage in reducing the cost and
time of implementation. However, two main issues have to be considered in the design of
the structure of WLC databases. First, suitable data normalisation procedures should be
utilised. Secondly, all context and uncertainty information of data should be recorded.
The use of a CAD application within an integrated environment entails two additional
requirements: adopting a standard elemental format of the WBS; and employing an
efficient uncertainty handling procedure.

A 5-step framework for implementing WLC in the design model within OSCON has been
proposed. The main requirements of this framework have been outlined from an in-depth
analysis of the data-related difficulties facing the implementation of WLC in the industry.
Further future research includes the detailed design of the CBS, and the structure of
databases. Then, the framework will be implemented and tested through a case study.
Finally, two reporting and feedback mechanisms will be designed to extend the
framework into the occupancy stage of projects.

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